2002: Our Opinion - Ballyhooed COR deal is no solution

The U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews may have reached a “compromise” on spring-like effect in drivers, but they have not resolved the issue.

Instead, the ruling bodies have succeeded only in creating more confusion. And for many golfers, that confusion will translate to resentment in 2008.

This compromise is not in the best interests of the game. Instead, it is all about face-saving. The USGA could have defused the situation long ago by acknowledging a mistake. Rather, it chose to let the issue fester until the R&A backed down in a concession to unity. What a royal mess.

The issue of spring-like effect is a red herring. The use of high-COR drivers on the PGA European Tour and in R&A-sanctioned championships – meaning everywhere around the globe except the United States, Mexico and, in this case, Canada – has not wreaked havoc on competitive golf. There is no evidence that distance gained with high-COR drivers is threatening the integrity of European Tour and R&A championship venues. Nor have high-COR drivers changed the nature of the average person’s game in Great Britain, Japan, Australia, Sweden or South Africa.

The USGA rushed to judgment when it identified the threat of spring-like effect in 1998. The R&A correctly reserved judgment. Shame on the R&A for caving in.

If there’s any compromise, it should be the adoption of .860 as the COR limit. The USGA concession would be the acceptance of a coefficient of restitution that everyone agrees pushes spring-like effect to its practical limits. The R&A concession would be the acknowledgment that a rule establishing a defined limit on spring-like effect is necessary.

Instituting a 5-year phaseout period is unworkable. By setting a COR limit of .830 on the professional tours next season, it unfairly penalizes players on those tours who have been competing with high-COR drivers. It puts an unfair burden on amateur golfers who own or plan to purchase high-COR drivers, but will have to replace them in 2008 if they want to stay in compliance with the Rules of Golf. And by “grandfathering” high-COR drivers for five years, the USGA is setting the golf consumer’s table with dessert, then pulling the sweets and serving Brussels sprouts after 2007.

The only beneficiaries of this compromise are the manufacturers of high-COR drivers, who have a five-year window in which to promote and sell them. Meanwhile, their R&D departments can busy themselves with concocting what the USGA will target as the next “threat to the game.”

The USGA and R&A have proven at the U.S. Open and British Open that tougher course setups are all that’s needed to defend par. Instead of concerning themselves with making rules to protect classic courses from assaults on par by a minuscule percentage of golfers, the governing bodies should focus on how the rules are applied to the vast majority of players worldwide.

As it stands, the spring-like effect compromise could fuel a more ominous threat to the integrity of the game. Many owners of high-COR clubs will retire those clubs in 2008 and thus comply with the Rules of Golf. But just as many likely will choose to ignore their nonconforming status, which does not bode well for the relevance of the USGA and the R&A.

And consider this: Hand-me-down clubs typically go to children or adult beginners. Who will inherit many of the nonconforming, high-COR drivers that well-intentioned golfers give up? Children and adult beginners – the very people who won’t have the skills to enjoy the performance benefits of high-COR clubs, and who most need to know and understand the Rules of Golf.

Some compromise.

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